Monday, January 23, 2017



Blue Rider Press
$25 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Every politico and pundit has tried to explain the 2016 presidential race, but James Carville, the multiple best-selling Ragin' Cajun and grand strategist of Bill Clinton's rise to the White House has largely stayed silent. Until now.

He straddled the punch bowl, dropped his pants, and whipped out his member, which, he assured everyone, was very large. Then Donald Trump pissed right into the punch of the Republican Party.

So begins We're Still Right, They're Still Wrong with that image of Donald Trump defiling the celebration that should've been the GOP Establishment's easy march to the White House.
In We're Still Right, They're Still Wrong, Carville updates his #1 New York Times bestseller from 1996, the campaign tract that Bill Clinton once credited for his re-election. Carville skewers the GOP's dumpster fire of a record over the past twenty years, and argues that Trump is the living manifestation of a failed party. From income inequality to race relations, Carville believes that Democratic Party is not only the dominant party of the past, but of America's future, too and he makes the case in his uncensored and earthy style.

Among other things, We're Still Right, They're Still Wrong features a hot take on the Clinton e-mail scandal, a story about Carville's momma schooling a pair of crawfish mongers, a lecture on political panics called The Anatomy of Bullshit, and a recipe for how to grill your (non-existent) Trump Steak.

And wit and sharp tongue aside, Carville turns it all into the most cogent and thoughtful analysis of the 2016 and how the Democrats can and must be victorious.

My Review: From its arresting cover image to its trademark homespun vituperation, this is a classic Carville rant with hard covers and fancy typography. You'll like it, in a certain wistful way, if you're a liberal; otherwise don't bother.

And why, a reasonable person might ask, am I reviewing a rally-the-troops book from a failed presidential bid?
In many ways, the Democrats have enjoyed the opposite record of Repblicans—we haven't been abysmally wrong about everything—and yet, we're not enjoying the opposite result. If the Republican Party is cracked and shattered, ours should be stronger than ever, right?
That right there is the first reason why I'm reviewing the book. This is a piece of soul-searching I am not seeing the Democrats do. Yes yes, the Donald's in the White House, the world will end shortly, Hillary won the popular vote, so now's the time to circle the wagons! Party Party rah rah rah!


Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. If she hadn't, she would have taken the oath of office instead of that orange buffoon whose temper makes him unfit to lead a troop of baboons and whose fitness for office—ANY office, second assistant vice-undersecretary of cat-boiling on up—is not, by any scale yet invented, measurable. And she lost it to The Donald. That *has* to hurt.

The Electoral College has failed in its Constitutional duty, to prevent by the exercise of wiser, older, whiter heads than prevail amongst the hoi polloi, the inauguration of a manifestly unfit candidate for the presidency. Now is the time, popular-vote quoting folks, to get after that Constitutional amendment to make the popular vote determine the occupant of the White House! Because, you see clearly now, as of this good moment, the popular vote matters less than a gnat's fart does in a tornado.

But the main failing was the Democratic Party's. The crooked and disgusting theft of the party's nomination from the candidate clearly preferred by the Democratic Party base was allowed to stand. That was and is the single most shameful moment in American political history. Everything that has followed after that is merely the result of the various nefarious shadow parties to the election realizing that the system is well and truly broken so any-bloody-thing goes. Half of registered Democrats stayed home on Election Day. And you bet the GOP-state voter restrictions had an impact; the margins of Clinton's loss in the key states was razor-thin.

A popular, untainted candidate would have motivated the voters to turn out. Mrs. Clinton, after years and years and years of nonsensical and deeply cynical political attacks and smear campaigns created in the fetid swamps of hateful, wrongheaded opponents of her very modestly progressive political stance, was not that candidate. The Democratic National Committee conspired with her campaign to ram her nomination through despite the base's clear absence of any desire to see her as the president.

And STOP ALREADY with the third-party "protest vote" horse manure. Had every single third-party voter in each and every battleground state cast their vote for Mrs. wouldn't have put her in the White House. She lost, guys. The more qualified, more prepared, almost infinitely superior as a human being candidate lost.

Because the Democratic Party did not listen to its base.

Sam Houston, the great Texan and patriot, said of a very similar and equally highly qualified candidate for a different presidency:
I have personally known Mr. Jefferson Davis for many years. [he lists the numerous and very important, influential positions held by Jefferson Davis] He is a gentleman imbued with all the instincts of Southern honor and chivalry, but I want to tell you something you may not know about him: Jeff Davis is as ambitious as Lucifer and cold as a lizard.
(from the book SAM HOUSTON by James L. Haley)
If *I* can't warm to a woman who championed a national health plan, a Medicare for All, in 1994 while she was the First Lady, then there's a real problem. Almost every factual claim about Mrs. Clinton hurled at her by the Republicans involved in the actual, real "vast right-wing conspiracy" was bull. It was piffle. It was fabricated from splinters and wisps and puffed to immense and unbelievably exaggerated proportions, despite being demonstrably untrue. You know why it stuck?

Mrs. Clinton is Hermione Granger. "She's a nightmare," squeaked a pubescent Ron Weasley in the memorable scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Yep. The swot of a snobby little priss who sat at a front desk in every class, had her own carrel in the library, and affected to eat her homemade lunch outside, "enjoying the air." We just don't like her.

Admire, perhaps. And to be sure she has her coterie, her Pantsuit Mafia. But the bulk of The People just...don't like her. All the mud slung at her, which was of no factual substance, would never have stuck to someone the people liked. Should that make a difference? Should the many and genuine contributions made by Mrs. Clinton to the body politic of the United States of America have outweighed the ick factor? Yes indeed. Hillary Clinton should, by any reasonable person's standards, be the 45th and first female President of the United States of America.

Yet she's not. And this book, this rah-rah get-out-and-vote book, this catalog of the accomplishments of each and every Democratic administration since FDR, mentions their candidate exactly once. Bill gets more page time. Bernie Sanders gets equal page time: One mention.

Do I really need to say that this is the single most telling fact (pesky things, easier to use "alternative facts" like "she lost because sexism") there is? Hillary Clinton couldn't energize her husband's old kingmaker to warble her praises throughout his book. Permaybehaps his editor at Blue Rider Press struck out the mentions, out of concern that the book would be rendered nugatory in the event of a Sanders nomination. Then why allow the unfavorable mention of Sanders that there is? Why mention Mrs. Clinton at all? It doesn't hang together; I can't see another line of reasoning for not including his whole-hearted partisan support for his girl, given Carville's political and public profile as a plain-speaking straight shooter, unless he...just doesn't really like her. Or he realized that The People don't like her.

I admit that these are equally likely to be my failures of imagination or my personal bias. But as a gay liberal life-long supporter of equality for all, a voter for Jill Stein, whose possession of a uterus was not a surprise to me, and the son of a single mother whose economic struggles in the wake of her divorce were perforce my economic struggles and her victories over them the cause of a great deal of pride for her in me, don't a single goddamned (sorry, Jo) one of y'all women say I'm being sexist in saying the simple truth: Your woman lost, and to a manifestly inferior man, and it had nothing to do with her gender.

In conclusion, let me hustle y'all out the door with a recommendation to read this book for its excellent policy history and for anyone the least bit interested in civil society, go read the Conclusion: Do Facts Matter Anymore? from pp213-222 inclusive. Sit at Hermione's old carrel in the library if you don't want to spend $25 (and had this book been an eight-buck mass market paperback instead, this election might well have gone differently). Let James Carville have his say into your private ear.

I'm done now.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

FOOL ME TWICE, a truly scary look at the organized, cynical, and disturbingly effective war on science...all kinds of science

FOOL ME TWICE: Fighting the Assault on Science in America

Rodale Books
$25.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: "Whenever the people are well informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.” But what happens in a world dominated by complex science? Are the people still well-enough informed to be trusted with their own government? And with less than 2 percent of Congress with any professional background in science, how can our government be trusted to lead us in the right direction?

Will the media save us? Don't count on it. In early 2008, of the 2,975 questions asked the candidates for president just six mentioned the words "global warming" or "climate change," the greatest policy challenge facing America. To put that in perspective, three questions mentioned UFOs.

Today the world’s major unsolved challenges all revolve around science. By the 2012 election cycle, at a time when science is influencing every aspect of modern life, antiscience views from climate-change denial to creationism to vaccine refusal have become mainstream.
Faced with the daunting challenges of an environment under siege, an exploding population, a falling economy and an education system slipping behind, our elected leaders are hard at work ... passing resolutions that say climate change is not real and astrology can control the weather.

Shawn Lawrence Otto has written a behind-the-scenes look at how the government, our politics, and the media prevent us from finding the real solutions we need. Fool Me Twice is the clever, outraged, and frightening account of America’s relationship with science—a relationship that is on the rocks at the very time we need it most.

My Review:
Ideology and rhetoric increasingly guide policy decision, often bearing little relationship to factual reality. And the America we once knew seems divided and angry, defiantly embracing unreason.
The most unnerving reality in today's social, political, and educational reality is that science, which you are benefiting from this very second as you read this review on the internet, is underfunded, undertaught, and underapprecitaed by the people of the USA and their political overlords. The reason for this is that an insane religious know-nothingism has infected the Body Politic with a conservative (in the worst possible meaning of that never-good term) resistance to accepting reality as it is, instead of how one fancies it should be. This book quantifies the horrors on their way down the pike as this horrifying metastatic stupidity continues unchecked and even promoted by the small-souled fear-mongering Yahoos, in the original Swiftian sense, who shout and rail and spew on Fox "News" and the related echo chambers. The author explores some psychological mechanisms of belief as it relates to the acceptance of authority, which really helps illuminate why the doomsday warnings about ignoring climate change only seem to make the religious authoritarians more resistant to the mounting—burgeoning!—evidence of its current reality. Otto then provides specific suggestions that could lead to more effective ways to address the concerns of these people, allowing for a rational debate and increasing the likelihood that some kind of useful agreement could be reached:
"When a person holds a belief, especially a strong one that is linked to important values (e.g. some sociopolitical beliefs), information threatening that belief creates inconsistency in the cognitive system that threatens one's self-image as a smart person. This produces an unpleasant emotional state." That belief resistance—and this is a critically important point—is largely coming from the adult ideological worldview. This is why education is political in the first place, and why the children of scientists are the most likely next generation of scientists—and effect that is slowly striating society into knowledge haves and have-nots and can only increase partisanship along science lines.

This book is exactly as tendentious as my book report is. If you don't already agree with its premise, then you're unlikely to consider picking it up. Which is a pity, in my view. For those of us who already agree, this acts either as a call to arms, or a horribly depressing reminder of how the New Dark Ages have already begun. For make no mistake: Stupidity has more gravity than intelligence, and hate has more brightness than enlightenment. Science has proven too many times that mass and heat always win for me to have any significant hope that Good will triumph over Willful Ignorance:
Espousing the anti-science argument, that the lack of absolute certainty that something is true is grounds for inaction or doubt, or that we should hear out all perspectives equally, is evidence of either a lack of understanding of reason or motivation by an unreasonable agenda. Such people should not be trusted with making decisions that will have serious impacts upon others.

Please prove me wrong. Read this book and get energized to fight the Yahoos. Please. We must try to re-establish science as the basis for increasing American freedom and for providing a solid foundation for the future. We are no longer in an age where just one more coal-fired powerplant or one more high-tech deep-sea trawler that ravages ecosystems we know nothing about won't make an impact on the ancient concept of the “common property of humankind.” I am appalled at the stupidity and/or greed of politicians and those who voted for them who fail to understand this universal benefit argument that "[t]he evidence shows that successful regulations that define a fair trade in the commons do not reduce freedom, they increase it."

That dream, that beautiful vision of a planet run for the best possible results of our individual actions resulting in a healthy world for all of its people, has always been a motivating factor for the bulk of the scientists I've known personally or known of professionally. How much more elegant it is to imagine a world with intact ecosystems that offer the humanity we create abundantly and thoughtlessly sustenance, health, a future as good as or better than the present:
In the end this is what matters most: the beauty. It's why scientists do science: to apprehend the great beauty of nature. They are Puritans, four hundred years hence, with more data, but still searching for that direct communion with wonder an the aesthetic. In this way science is not unlike art or religion. In fact art often anticipates and reflects the forms science discovers, as does religion. Science is much bigger than just solving challenges, as important as they are. It is about who we are as human beings, about or ability to love, to wonder, to imagine, to heal, to care for one another, to create a better future, to dream of things unseen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN, economic stability at all costs

THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse

Random House
$28 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Our current economic path is coming to an end. The signposts are all around us: sluggish growth, rising inequality, stubbornly high pockets of unemployment, and jittery financial markets, to name a few. Soon we will reach a fork in the road: One path leads to renewed growth, prosperity, and financial stability, the other to recession and market disorder.

In The Only Game in Town, El-Erian casts his gaze toward the future of the global economy and markets, outlining the choices we face both individually and collectively in an era of economic uncertainty and financial insecurity. Beginning with their response to the 2008 global crisis, El-Erian explains how and why our central banks became the critical policy actors—and, most important, why they cannot continue is this role alone. They saved the financial system from collapse in 2008 and a multiyear economic depression, but lack the tools to enable a return to high inclusive growth and durable financial stability. The time has come for a policy handoff, from a prolonged period of monetary policy experimentation to a strategy that better targets what ails economies and distorts the financial sector—before we stumble into another crisis.

The future, critically, is not predestined. It is up to us to decide where we will go from here as households, investors, companies, and governments. Using a mix of insights from economics, finance, and behavioral science, this book gives us the tools we need to properly understand this turning point, prepare for it, and come out of it stronger. A comprehensive, controversial look at the realities of our global economy and markets, The Only Game in Town is required reading for investors, policymakers, and anyone interested in the future.

My Review: For those who remember the Bush Crash of 2008, and who really *got* what was at stake, have you ever wondered why we're not all eating snakes we trap in the back yard and dandelion greens grubbed up from the front lawn?
Ever since the 2008 global financial crisis, central banks had ventured, not by choice but by necessity, ever deeper into the unfamiliar and tricky terrain of “unconventional monetary policies.” They floored interest rates, heavily intervened in the functioning of markets, and pursued large-scale programs that outcompeted one another in purchasing securities in the marketplace; to top it all off, they aggressively sought to manipulate investor expectations and portfolio decisions.
That's why.

But the casino always wins the end. In the case of the economy, in fact in the case of any and every complex human-designed system, the casino is entropy: Chaos and confusion will always triumph. Builders create magnificence; entropy carts it away.
As stable as it may seem on the surface to some, the current configuration of the global economy and the financial system is getting harder to maintain. Below the façade of the unusual calm of the last few years, interrupted by relatively few bouts of instability since 2008–09, tensions are rising and the effectiveness of central banks is coming under stress, so much so as to raise serious questions about the durability of the current path that the global economy is on.
And there it is: the central question this book aims to address. This is definitely well within Author El-Erian's capabilities. I didn't feel that the aim as stated was fully met. I wonder, though, if there is a way for the aim to be fully met absent a clear prescriptive course being outlined in great detail. Such a feat is beyond the capabilities of any mere mortal.

Author El-Erian has a quietly skeptical view of the incoming administration's economic policy. A modest stock-market rally doesn't seem to be within the author's hopes for a policy-driven course that, by its clarity and conciseness, would push stock values higher in a natural and sustainable way.
One road out of the T junction ahead involves a restoration of high-inclusive growth that creates jobs, reduces the risk of financial instability, and counters excessive inequality. It is a path that also lowers political tensions, eases governance dysfunction, and holds the hope of defusing some of the world’s geopolitical threats. The other road is the one of even lower growth, persistently high unemployment, and still worsening inequality. It is a road that involves renewed global financial instability, fuels political extremism, and erodes social cohesion as well as integrity.
My sense is that Author El-Erian does not see the positive as the likely course the US and world economies will take.

I am a pessimist in matters economic, so I tend to agree; I am deeply, deeply pessimistic about the incoming administration's intentions and aims, so I am almost certain that the deepest and darkest of economic nights is falling.

I read this book with a kind of knock-kneed pants-wetting childlike terror. If the grown-ups don't know how to fix it, all I can do is try to survive it. That's probably not the best way to persuade people to pick the book up. I can tell you that, having faced my fear, I not only don't feel better, I feel more afraid...but I also feel more able to watch the train speed ahead toward the collapsing bridge without the added stress of being awakened from a sound sleep by the squealing of the brakes and the screams of the dying in the cars ahead of me.

Author El-Erian falls short on the spotting of side-switches. I am not at all sure that he sees any. It is the function of this book not to comfort but to spur the reader into action. Take the advice of Mavis Staples: Touch A Hand, Make A Friend. We will get through the coming night better together.


Friday, January 20, 2017

ROSSET, the memoir of the man who made America safe for porn

ROSSET: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship

OR Books
$25 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Genet…Beckett…Burroughs…Miller…Ionesco, Ōe, Duras. Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. Hubert Selby Jr. and John Rechy. The legendary film I Am Curious (Yellow). The books that assaulted the fort of propriety that was the United States in the 1950s and ’60s, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Tropic of Cancer. The Evergreen Review. Victorian “erotica.” The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A bombing, a sit-in, and a near-fistfight with Norman Mailer. The common thread between these disparate elements, a number of which reshaped modern culture, was Barney Rosset.

Rosset was the antidote to the trope of the “gentleman publisher” personified by other pioneering figures of the industry such as Alfred A. Knopf, Bennett Cerf and James Laughlin. If Barney saw a crowd heading one way—he looked the other. If he knew something was forbidden, he regarded it as a plus. Unsurprisingly, financial ruin, along with the highs and lows of critical reception, marked his career. But his unswerving dedication to publishing what he wanted made him one of the most influential publishers ever.

Rosset began work on his autobiography a decade before his death in 2012, and several publishers and a number of editors worked with him on the project. Now, at last, in his own words, we have a portrait of the man who reshaped how we think about language, literature—and sex. Here are the stories behind the filming of Norman Mailer’s Maidstone and Samuel Beckett’s Film; the battles with the US government over Tropic of Cancer and much else; the search for Che’s diaries; his romance with the expressionist painter Joan Mitchell, and more.

At times appalling, more often inspiring, never boring or conventional: this is Barney Rosset, uncensored.


My Review: Today is a dark day for me personally. A person I do not respect, in fact one I disrespect with a virulence approaching hatred, is taking the oath of office of the presidency of the United States of America. Appallingly enough, I am required by my conscience to wish this person good health and godspeed because, in the event of his demise, impeachment, or removal from this mortal coil, a worse person will assume the most powerful political office in the country and possibly the entire world.

Barney Rosset, had he lived, would be likely to take some loud and public and effective action in opposition to this horrible eventuality. Barney was a mouthy old bastard. Barney was an opponent of kakistocracy, an enemy of the brummagem and the bloated, overblown, pretentious, and useless in life and art. His life-long battle against the booboisie wouldn't have allowed him to remain silent in the teeth of the gale of poisonous poltroonery emitted by the president elect.

I was only acquainted with Barney for a short while in the 1990s. In the course of my work as a literary agent, his company Foxrock Books published Lo's Diary, a companion piece to Vladimir Nabokov's immortal Lolita. As the book was not a critical success in the US, my company's efforts to vend its paperback rights were unavailing. I'm still saddened and puzzled by this wrong-headed reception by US readers. Be that as it may, Barney's taste as a publisher was on clearest possible display at that point just as clearly as it was when he went to war with the United States Post Office to ensure US citizens legal and unrestricted access to literary greats like Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence.

Reading this memoir of one of the great iconoclasts of the 20th century was heartening to me in a way I cannot overstate. Barney faced the entire weight of the conservative establishment from the moment he made his first film, Strange Victory, to the moment he relinquished the reins of this life in 2012. He never stopped until he stopped forever. And that, my friends and neighbors, is a fable for me to guide the next four years of my own life. No less a scion of privilege than Barney himself, can I do less than my honored predecessor did in my pursuit of a world more open and liberal than it is? I want to do as much as Barney did, but I can't jump the height of the bar he set. I don't think many people of any age or station can.

I am most definitely inspired to try. I am most certainly heartened to face up to the battle against the gravity of the least and the last and the lowest that is even now doing its dead-level best to make America great at hate again. Or greater at it than it already is.

Buy this book, read it, and take heart from the fact that this battle we face is but one more in a war our elders and betters have fought before us. They succeeded; they failed; they changed and couldn't change and, most important to remember on this dark, difficult day, they did not give up and give in and give way.

Please help everyone, and I mean everyone, even those who don't see it as help, to stand up and stand for that most American of values: Personal liberty.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

BITTER IS THE WIND, love and loss and what life can and cannot do to you

Rare Bird Books

$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Bitter Is The Wind is a coming of age novel that traces the lives of George Johnson, Jr. and his father from the rural blue collar landscape of upstate New York in the 1970s to the halls of Wharton Business School and the heights of Wall Street. After a family tragedy strengthens their familial bond, the Johnsons contend with assembly line monotony, unfulfilled dreams of baseball stardom, and they learn what it means to be tempted, trapped, jailed and ignored by a seemingly uncaring God.

First-time novelist Jim McDermott opens a window on the American working class and its aching desire for financial security, recognition, and respect. His characters confront a modern world with limited possibilities, ambiguous mores, and authorities who seem devoted to keeping the brightest and most talented members of the underclass on the other side of town. Bitter Is The Wind deconstructs the American dream.


My Review: Any book that leads off with the main character remembering the Miracle Mets winning the World Series in 1969 is a shoo-in for my deep affection.

Following the George Johnsons from lows to lowers to heights unimaginable at the beginning is a heady experience. The father fails the both their eyes...but for wildly different reasons. I have a shit relationship with my own father, still living for some unknown but unnecessary reason; George Junior comes to realize how much he owes his father, and how much his father loves him. Bile rose in my throat at that: Sheer tortured jealousy that someone dared to have a father whose love was real, and whom they could offer love to! How cruel to be deprived of any bond of love or respect or even tolerance from or towards my own father.

So already we know McDermott's the real deal. His story is set against the same time as my own life has been lived, and it was very much like revisiting that historical moment when men like George Senior were learning just how hard the system they believed in was fucking them. I don't come from a working-class background, but I can tell you that's how the story was playing out on TV from the Nixon Recession of 1969-1971 to the Oil Embargo of 1973-1974 to the Hostage Crisis and Oil Shock of 1979...through the horrors of the Reagan felt as bleak and as hopeless as McDermott has his characters feel:
George Sr visited later that night. He sat on the sidewalk near the gasoline pumps. He opened a can of Shop-Rite cola and watched his sixteen-year-old son work. Selling gasoline instead of rabbits. Cleaning up after customers instead of rabbits. Wearing a collared Texaco shirt with his name on it instead of a tee shirt. He took a swig from the can and set it on the sidewalk. "Kid forced me out of the rabbit business," he muttered.

A Cadillac approached from the Taconic and stopped in front of the pumps. George Sr stood up and chucked his soda can into the metal trash container. He waved goodbye to his son and walked toward his pickup. "Unemployment's over 9 percent and he's responsible for a whole business," he said to himself.
How proud a man feels when his child, his son, does well! That's doing well, see: Waiting on a guy in a Cadillac as the one running the gas station, not working with rabbits at a lab. That's bleak...but the kid's got a job, the dad's got a job, and they're doing better than millions of others. (Then and now.)

A stupid mistake, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could have cost George Jr his entire future. It was the Just Say No era, after all, and a drug bust isn't a great thing to have on a resume. But George Jr climbs over the obstacle, by gawd, and he gets himself into Wharton...that's one hell of an achievement...and he gets himself a really good job by the time Reagan's second administration is getting underway. He's Made It. And making it feels...

...about like not making feels. Not great. Not awful. Just not the high of highs you're expecting after the build-up and the work you've had to do. It's great not to have to clean rabbit cages, goodness knows. But...Peggy Lee said it best...Is That All There Is? If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing.

But life doesn't have any interest in you or your needs. Life gets going and then you're halfway done! Keep dancing...keep dancing...keep dancing....

But there are moments when you get to decide whether you're ready for the Final Disappointment:
"George, I'm not asking you. I'm telling you. You're going to LA. It's part of the job. You're well paid."

George circled around the coffee table, stopping in front of [his boss]. "Nope." George's eyes narrowed. "I'm not going."

"What?" [his boss] asked, raising his hand.

"You heard me. Go find somebody else. I quit."

George spun around on his freshly polished shoes. He walked to his office, picked up his jacket, and left the building. On the way back to the subway, he handed the disabled Vietnam veteran a five dollar bill.
And so the boy who made good makes good at last. He learns slowly, this one, but learn he does and he decides he's ready to keep dancing. This time, though, it will be his own tune.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I've read too many books to believe what I'm told. #ReadingIsResistance

It’s 2017…do you know where your values are? Mine, on this Martin Luther King, Junior, Day are aligned with Dr. King’s as outlined in the "I have a dream" speech. You can find it on YouTube if you've never seen it.

On Friday the 20th, a new administration will formally begin. For many of us this is a tragedy out of Greek drama. It seems to many of us that the gods must be angry with us, have decided to punish us by having the least qualified, most appalling kind of human being sworn in as the leader of our country despite the fact he’ll be in violation of the Constitution he’ll be swearing to uphold from the instant he swears the oath. See the Emoluments Clause for just one, but a very powerful one, of the reasons for this. I don’t know what will happen after this act of treason takes place, but in my fantasies, a bolt of lightning will fry the slab of bacon with his hand on the Bible and the lie on his lips before the oath can be completed. A boy can dream.

In an earlier post, I outlined my purpose for this year of change: I want to bring the act of resistance to kakistocracy, to scumbagarchy, to the ascendance of the very worst that our beautiful, powerful, gigantically capable country can offer, right down to your head. No one can tell you what to read. No one can tell you how to feel about what you read. No one can (yet) tell you what books, magazines, newspapers, you can own, subscribe to, read on your various electronic devices. The very act of reading is resistance to the authoritarian…and soon to be, in my worried opinion, totalitarian…chants of the opinion influencers sent forth like the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys in an ever-stronger assault on your independence of thought.

Reading cannot be controlled in the way that watching can be. The act prevents it. Reading is direct communication between a writer and a reader, unmediated by manipulative images or voiceovers, undistracted by advertising messages or unrelated messages in “crawls” across part of the visual field. There is a reason our elites have done their most strenuous best to make reading unpopular: Whatever the message of the author, the reader receives it whole and entire. Many are not able to perceive the didactic purpose of the writer, others misinterpret the message, some simply disagree with what the author is saying. (My Goodreads reviews of the bullshit written by Ann Coulter and the homophobe Orson Scott Card are examples of the latter.) None of this changes the unsafe truth that, once eyeballs receive and brain interprets the written word, the outside world cannot erase and can only in a limited way amend the author’s ideas in the reader’s head.

There is a very, very good reason that freedom of speech and freedom of the press were of great concern to the Founding Fathers. There is a reason that no license to own and operate a printing press has ever been required in the US. To redress the error of “allowing freedom of the press” (take a moment to unpack that…freedom allowed? how is that meant to work, if it’s allowed it can be disallowed and therefore is not freedom…this same headscratching tautology applies to “granting rights”), the Powers That Be determined that broadcasting would be licensed (“to prevent chaos” since there would be no stopping use of any channel by anyone and that would be bad, wouldn’t it) and regulated and controlled. For more than fifty years, those controls required broadcasters to perform civic duties, which led to “Meet the Press” and its ilk; but the Reagan Administration lifted those requirements among a host of others and the snakepit of cable news channels spewing unfair and imbalanced vitriolic lies took less than a decade to form. No licensing agency can enforce standards that aren’t defined, as the standards for news once were. And thus was the liberal majority of the bygone era betrayed by their ideological enemies who came into power at last in the 1980s.

The Great Satan shown in the act of sucking the life from the USA

The “vast right-wing conspiracy” as Mrs. Clinton so honestly, but ineptly, named them got the bit in their teeth and began to trample the truth under the cloven hooves of pundits, commentators, talk show hosts “independent” of that new shibboleth, “the Liberal Media.” (What Liberal Media? is an instructive analysis of what actually happened. I recommend it whole-heartedly.) Public trust in the institution Constitutionally protected from legal and official restraint plummeted as the endless lying bullshit flew at them from every direction. The onslaught was coordinated, as the perspective of hindsight demonstrates with blinding clarity. And it was unstoppable because it was not from any official source; it was not a conspiracy because it is not illegal to organize a campaign of words that is not criminal in its nature; and it was, therefore, wildly successful. A knife was applied to the throats of opposing pundits, very frequently academics and intellectuals, as the eternal US suspicion of intellectuals was fanned to a white heat and the efficacy of public education was pumped full of hot air to delegitimize academia and therefore academics daring to speak against the unfolding authoritarian dumbing-down of a population primed to find fault with a system stacked, blatantly and undisguisably, against them. A bit of distraction, a lot of misinformation, titanic waves of misdirection funded by people with oceans of money and rip-currents of purpose, and one dupe to lead them all: Here we are.

The Guiltiest of the Guilty Parties in the long national nightmare that will be the new administration

It felt to me, as I watched this debacle unfold before my disbelieving eyes, hopeless and unstoppable. It has proven to be unstoppable. Nothing is hopeless. Hope is internal. Hope is generated from within, not received from without. That simple truth saved my sanity in the aftermath of the first Russian candidate for the US presidency becoming the president elect.
Hope comes from within; words come from without. How can reading grow hope? The only place you can ever put your money that no one can take it away from you is inside your head. Education, formal or not, happens when you read. Whatever you choose to read, two things are inherent in the act: You are the sole actor, yours is the choice that can’t be compelled, yours the ideas that come from reading the words. Any words. Novels, plays, encyclopedias, comic books, biographies, essays, magazines, websites, satires. It does not matter. YOU selected the reading material. YOU read it. YOU grew your own thoughts inside your own head after reading it.


All of my reviews for 2017 will be about the act of resistance. I read something. I chose it. I resisted the shouts and the screams and the distractions and I fed my head. I want you to do the same thing. I’ll tell you about the things I read and I hope you’ll want to read at least some of them. But even if you’re not interested in a single book that I review, I want you to realize something that applies to you as well as to me: If an old poor disabled guy who can’t march in protests, can’t go to meetings, can’t give to worthy causes, can resist the tsunami of terror, so can you. Read a book. Tell everyone you can reach what you read. Your very act of reading resists the drumbeat of dumbing-down, of getting inside your head by making so much noise that you can’t form a thought for yourself. Tell everyone you can reach, every time you can reach them, how you claimed your head for yourself and how they can too:


Sunday, January 15, 2017

AND AFTER MANY DAYS, debut Nigerian novelist tells personal/political tale of loss


Tim Duggan Books
$25 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family's life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.

In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family's ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.

And After Many Days introduces Ile's spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.


My Review: This is a beautifully written novel. It is, if other commenters are to be believed, poorly or simply un-structured. I don't agree with this assessment. I see the author's structure as like that of life itself: Free-floating, connected and interconnected and bound tightly and tenuously, resembling nothing so much as a kaleidoscope. Structure and pattern are artifacts of observation. Hey, life is an emergent process of quantum energy. Or some such.

By setting the novel in 1995 Nigeria, the author enables the reader to participate viscerally in the rite of passage that is civil war. It is painful when viewed whole; it is mundane when lived through. Dinner is still cooked, even if it's over an open fire; bedtime still comes for all the young children, even if it's accompanied by gunshots and missing relatives. It was a crisis point for the anti-imperialism trying to stop the economic looting and environmental destruction of international oil companies that persist in Southern Nigeria to this day.

Children see this, like everything else, with pitiless clarity and unsparing judgment:
Things happen in clusters. They would remember it as the year the Mile Three ultramodern market burned down in the middle of the night… It was the year of the poor. Of rumors, radio announcements, student riots and sudden disappearances. It was also the year news reached them of their home village, Ogibah, that five young men had been shot dead by the square in broad daylight.
None of it makes sense or creates a pattern. Yet.

Family is completely unique in the eyes of each member. It's a funny (sense ha-ha, and sense hmmm) truth that the social group that forms each member's similar and different qualities, ideas, opinions is utterly unique and unknowable to each other member:
Before the beginning of his memory, which was to say from the beginning of this life, there had always been the three of them. Paul and Bibi were the first people he saw, the first he touched. Everything he resented and liked, everything he knew, thought and felt, his smile and the angry pounding in his veins were all from them, and now, for the first time, taking notice of this made him feel incredibly lonely. The sort of lonely feeling that Bibi would have been tempted to slap out of him. Just the kind of thing that would have made Paul look at him in his usual bemused way and say, 'My friend, what are you saying? Please be serious'. But he sensed it that night, it hung about the room, the feeling that things may not always be like this, that they would one day grow up and live across town from each other like Ma and her cousin Aunty Julie or even die like all of Bendic's siblings whom he hardly ever spoke of. Paul turned around in his bed, the distant drumming had stopped, and mumbled something in his sleep, and Ajie was sure he could hear Bibi softly breathing from the room next door.
How does a younger sibling explain this sense of the fragile reality of family and life to an older one already interested in bigger things, smaller in importance to you just now, but much more immediate and pressing to their eyes?

Paul is a fine young man. Paul is a good soul. Ajie, locked in mortal combat with his closer sibling Bibi, senses the gulf between himself and Paul as unbridgeable. Of course he sees it that way, childhood and adolescence are by definition this life's perspectiveless passages:
Now, this was what Ajie wanted, this way that Paul had of becoming something after he had read about it; this way he had of claiming things for himself. He had joined himself to a we, an us. A corrupt official had been exposed in the papers for misappropriating pension funds, and Paul was expressing betrayal, even anger, about it.

How do you make yourself do that? How do you learn how to work yourself up over something that's not directly your concern?
Poor Ajie, having a lifetime of living in a big brother's big shadow. And one just enough older to make a big difference in your world! How can he know that one fine day he too will understand and opine upon the matters of a world that, now anyway, is so much wider than your own as to be imperceptible to you?

But a sibling's world isn't the only one that a family has to contain. A mother's, a father's, existence is tied to the permanent creation of this temporary life. Structure exists because we summon it into being, and we do so with the materials we have, the ideas we grab from...anywhere, I suppose...and the living energy of the beings around us:
They have waited many years for an answer, and one has finally arrived, dry and diminished, resting inside the box before them, and not one of them in the room knows how to approach the coffin. Ajie feels it's his place to take the lead; he steps forward to the casket and opens it. When Ma draws close, he holds her hand while Bibi looks in from the other side of the casket. He holds Ma's hand tight but can still feel the tremor running through it. These bones formed inside her, Ajie thinks.
The surprise, for me at least, in the aging process...I'm older than most of the world's people will ever get to how banal agony becomes. It is no less sharp or debilitating. It is simply part of the scenery, an item of furniture that serves no positive purpose but sits in exactly the place it is most likely to bark your shins or stub your toe. Of course Ma is in exquisite agony: She is looking at bones that grew inside her. Mothers...parents...are now in tears, in silent screams, in deepest possible denial. No one should know what their child's death looks like. It is asking too much of a human soul to bear this. But it happens every single minute of every single day that God sends.

Agnosticism is logic. Atheism is visceral certainty that no higher power could demand this of her creation.

This sentence sums up the only way many of us who have lost that deeply keep moving, breathing, functioning at whatever level we are able to summon:
The dead will not be consoled; neither will those who live in the skin of their dead.